U.S. Senator Richard Blumenthal spoke at the Save Sharon Hospital rally in Sharon on Sunday, Oct. 16. Patrick L. Sullivan / Lakeville Journal

A crowd of more than 300 people, including U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal, came to the Sharon town Green Sunday afternoon to protest the plan to close Sharon Hospital’s labor and delivery unit and reconfigure the intensive care unit.

The rally was originally intended to serve as a lead-in to an online public hearing before the state Office of Health Strategy on Tuesday.

But OHS announced Friday that the hearing has been postponed to an undetermined date due to “recent activity on the docket.”

Save Sharon Hospital, the organization that is leading the effort to block the closing of labor and delivery, has petitioned for intervenor status for the hearing.

The notice of postponement requires Nuvance Health, the hospital’s parent company, to respond to the petition by Oct. 21 and for Save Sharon Hospital to reply to that by Oct. 25.

Lydia Moore of SSH opened the rally by noting OHS had postponed the hearing “in part because of all the testimony.”

Moore said last time she checked the OHS website there were 54 letters posted. “So who knows what kind of backlog” OHS has.

Moore said the SSH cause has significant political support, noting that Gov. Ned Lamont has expressed his concern about the situation and that Blumenthal has sent his own letter to OHS.

Several political figures spoke, including State Rep. Maria Horn, D-Salisbury.

She noted that Nuvance is not arguing for closing labor and delivery because of concerns over safety or quality of care.

“It boils down to an assertion of high cost, and that can’t be the end of the discussion. It should be the beginning of a conversation” about how to combine state, federal and community resources to keep the unit open.

Horn introduced Blumenthal, who reminded the crowd that he was state attorney general in 2000 when the hospital was purchased by Essent Healthcare.

Blumenthal said he was skeptical about changing the intensive care unit to a “progressive care unit.” (The reconfiguration of the ICU is the subject of a separate application by Nuvance before state regulators.)

“I’m a progressive, but I want an intensive care unit,” he said. “Once you start putting profits before patients, there is no telling where it will end.”

U.S. Rep. Jahana Hayes, D-5th District, said she has sent her own letter to OHS and expressed irritation that Nuvance is going ahead with its plan after Hayes voted for legislation that provided funds for community hospitals.

“Not on my watch,” she said to cheers from the audience.

Gregg Pulver, the chair of the Dutchess County, N.Y., legislature, said residents of Amenia and Millerton and other nearby towns in New York have just as much at stake as their Connecticut counterparts.

“The idea that the CEO who made $2.5 million two years ago and $18 million last year can’t figure out a way to keep maternity alive? That’s bull crap.”

Christopher Kennan, town supervisor of North East (which includes Millerton), said towns such as Millerton and Amenia have young families that need women’s health care services.

“We are just as much a part of this as you.”

Several local residents told their stories of how Sharon Hospital responded quickly and efficiently to their obstetric emergencies.

State Rep. Stephen Harding, R-Brookfield, who is running for the state Senate’s 30th District, spoke. Chris DuPont, who is Horn’s opponent in next month’s election, was on hand but did not speak, as was Harding’s opponent, Democrat Eva Bermúdez Zimmerman.

Physicians Howard Mortman and David Kurish and financial expert Victor Germack also spoke at the rally.

Series of roundtables

Their remarks were similar to what they said on Oct. 12, when Kent residents gathered at St. Andrew’s Church to voice opposition to the planned reduction of Sharon Hospital services.

Similar roundtables were held in recent weeks in Sharon, Salisbury and Millerton, each led by a panel of Sharon Hospital physicians and SSH board members.

Germack spoke of the exemplary quality of care offered by Sharon Hospital, one of only four independent hospitals in the state.

“The devil is in the details,” Germack said, urging listeners to delve more thoroughly into what is proposed and likely effects of those changes.

Kurish, a cardiologist with 43 years of local service at Sharon Hospital, opposed the proposal to reduce intensive care to progressive care. He claimed an increasing delay in getting patients’ test results back.

“Patients are needing to wait longer for their test results,” Kurish said. He added that nurses want to use their depth of professional experience helping patients in intensive care, not in a progressive care unit. He warned that the hospital could degrade into an urgent care center.

“I can’t understand why the community cannot support the full-service hospital, rather than losing services,” Kurish said. “You have to have an ICU, or else you don’t have a hospital,” he added.

Resident David Sturges of Kent spoke at the Oct. 12 roundtable. “Their job is to heal the sick, not to make money. You have a good full-service hospital at Sharon, and it should be preserved,” he said.

With 31 years of experience at Sharon Hospital, obstetrician Mortman reported at the Kent roundtable that in all his years of practice in Sharon, “I have not lost one mother.”

“Patients’ voices and experiences need to be heard,” Mortman said, reminding listeners about the high volume of patients from New York who rely upon Sharon Hospital and who must not be overlooked.

Mortman spoke about emergencies to be dealt with speedily, within minutes in the case of obstetrical complications when there is no time to transport the patient to another facility. He hoped that Nuvance would “come to the table” and find a way forward.

This story was originally published on Oct. 19, 2022, by The Lakeville Journal.